Honningbarna – meaning ‘honey children’, and hailing from a conservative corner of Norway – are not your average fresh-faced newcomers. Intensely political, and performing punk according to its original DIY ethos (they include a cello in their set up simply because it happened to be the instrument lead singer Edvard Valberg could play), they sing in Norwegian despite acknowledging English would make more sense commercially, especially given their growing international acclaim. On tour, they forgo alcohol on their rider in favour of a charitable donation, and in taking a glance at Norway’s fairly admirable political outlook, focus on the weak spots and describe many of their countrymen as ‘unjustifiably smug’.
There are probably only half a dozen people on the crowded Whelan’s second floor who understand what Honningbarna are singing about – including Valberg’s mother and sister bouncing along endearingly in the front row – but sometimes actions say enough. The live show is incessant, and Valberg is an enthralling front man. Clad in geeky school uniform, he leaps and fist pumps his way around the front of the crowd, spending as much time off stage as on, and giving the entire set a pulsating level of energy. When the singer grabs his trademark cello, he somehow head bangs whilst bowing his way through frantic strong undertones, giving Honningbarna’s sound that same enticing twist that helps bands like Dropkick Murphys and System Of A Down find appeal outside of the genre’s normal fanbase.
Tonight’s set list is almost entirely taken in from debut album La Alarmane Ga, a record hot enough to grab the attention of EMI, who’ll release the follow up in March. An obvious stand out, if only because of its easy-to-grasp lyrics, is Fri Palestina, a feisty political number in line with the Gaza-backing tricolour the Norwegians have made a custom of flying at the back of their stage. Protokoll has less transparent political intent for the English-speaker, but, delivering abrasive vocals from behind a flurry of guitarists rocking out in the crowd. Klart Blikk has a bit of a classic rock feel to it, a growling verse backed by some classic riffs and a layered chorus.
What continues to stand out about Honningbarna live though, is the passion of their delivery. Valberg’s conviction that “punk shows shouldn’t last more than 45 minutes; even after that we walk off exhausted”. In an era in which the old ‘punk is dead’ adage doesn’t seem all that inaccurate for the mainstream, perhaps it takes a youthful, embittered crowd of outsiders to shake things up. They might not be a real name act yet, but it’s performances like tonight’s that have helped Honningbarna develop an enviable live reputation over the past six months. Not everyone’s the type to listen to angry foreign-language punk rock in their spare time, but few would contest the infectious energy and driving passion on show live, and it’s fast making Valberg and co. a must see. The claim to “world domination” is fairly tongue in cheek at this point; if Honningbarna get themselves in front of enough people with a live show like this, though, this will be hard to ignore.